Your Mature/Senior Dog

We all grow old, including our four-legged friends. And even though you can't stop the aging process, you can still help him live an active, healthy life well into his golden years.

One of the most important things you can do is to feed him a diet that's right for his age, IAMS® Active Maturity®, the result of nutritional breakthroughs developed by the geriatric research team at The Iams Company. This complete and balanced diet can help your mature dog maintain an ideal body weight, maximize his ability to stay healthy and maintain muscle tone and digestive health.

When is Your Dog Mature/Senior ?

Physiological condition, rather than chronological age, determines whether a dog is mature. Aging begins when the body's systems start to slow down,when cells deteriorate faster than the body can repair them. Though large breeds tend to age faster than smaller breeds, the mature years generally begin at around seven years (five years for large breeds). If you feed your dog a diet designed to address the nutritional needs of his age, you can best maintain his overall health and well-being.

As your dog ages, it is important to detect and address with his veterinarian the telltale signs of aging or disease: a dull, dry coat and flaky skin, joint stiffness, energy loss, weight gain, increased water intake, digestive problems and frequent constipation. These signs, among others, may be caused either by normal wear-and-tear or perhaps by the onset of disease. In any case, detecting and addressing them early may give your dog a greater chance to stay active and healthy.

When and how your dog responds to the aging process has a lot to do with genetics and environment, but nutrition plays an equally important role. The quality of food and its ability to maintain and nourish your dog's cells can help promote a long, healthy life.

As your dog ages and his systems become less efficient, he relies increasingly on the food you provide to make up for his body's shortfalls. According to Michael Hayek, Ph.D., an IAMS research nutritionist who specializes in geriatric nutrition, "Aging dogs need the same nutrients as younger dogs; however, the quantity or the way the nutrients are provided may change."

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Finding the Right Food

If you see signs of aging in your dog, don't wait to feed him the proper diet. Feeding a high-quality, premium food throughout your dog's life is the best way to help him age gracefully. When your dog reaches his mature years, choose IAMS Active Maturity for nutrition suited to this stage of life. "Good nutrition starts early," says Dr. Hayek. "It should be viewed as proactive health care because it may be a deterrent to aging later on."

If your dog already exhibits signs of aging, look for a high-quality, balanced maintenance food that caters to his changing metabolism. When you're shopping for a formula that's right for your dog, look for and compare these important points:

  • High quality animal protein. Just like us, as dogs grow older, they naturally tend to lose lean muscle mass. High-quality protein can provide the essential amino acids your dog needs to minimize the loss of lean body tissue. Dogs function best on high-quality, animal-based proteins from sources such as chicken or lamb. Some believe that aging dogs should be fed less protein to prevent kidney disease. However, the evidence is just not there. Reduced protein has a significant effect only after a certain level of kidney dysfunction occurs. If you're concerned about your dog's kidney health, your veterinarian can run assessment tests and recommend appropriate treatments if they are needed. "If your dog is generally in a state of good health," explains Dr. Hayek, "protein should not be restricted. Rather, it should be available for building those all-important muscle reserves."
  • Lower fat. A less-active, mature dog needs fewer calories. Look for a food that's low in fat compared to adult formulas, but don't eliminate fat completely. Pick a formula with at least 10 percent fat. Older dogs still need essential fatty acids in their diets to help promote healthy skin and coat.
  • Moderately fermentable fiber. Fiber promotes digestibility and helps your dog absorb nutrients. At the same time, it should help maintain a healthy intestinal tract, which can be problematic for aging dogs. IAMS includes dried beet pulp, a patented fiber source, in all of its foods to make elimination easier and regular.
  • Antioxidants. These help maintain balance within the body by ridding it of harmful free radicals, which increase as a dog ages. Antioxidants fend off free radicals and help protect cell membranes. To maintain your dog's immune-system response to free radicals, feed a formula with antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin E.
  • Vitamins and minerals. A high-quality, nutritionally balanced dog food should include all of the essential nutrients in the proper proportions. You might think your mature dog needs vitamin and mineral supplements. In fact, unless your veterinarian specifically identifies a deficiency, vitamin and mineral supplements are unnecessary and, in some cases, may do harm by creating an unhealthy imbalance.
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Making the Most of the Mature Years

As your dog reaches his mature years, remember these tips:

  • Minimize stress and change. Avoid big moves or changes in your dog's schedule. If you must disrupt a routine, give your dog some added attention to ease the adjustment.
  • Regular exercise. Take him for two 15-minute walks each day to help maintain muscle tone, enhance circulation, promote digestion and prevent weight gain.
  • Smaller, more frequent meals. Instead of one large portion a day, try two or three smaller meals, which will help your dog burn calories by stimulating his metabolism.
  • Routine veterinary checkups and immunizations. Regular dental care and thorough physicals will reveal subtle changes in your dog's health. At home, frequently examine him for any odd-shaped bumps or lumps. If you discover something unusual and it seems to be growing rapidly, call your veterinarian. Early detection and preventive treatment can go a long way toward extending your friend's life.
  • Great-tasting, premium pet food. As your dog ages, he may become less interested in eating. Make sure he gets tasty, nutrient-dense food that's gentle on his digestion.

Finally, Dr. Hayek points out, there's still much to learn about canine geriatric nutrition. For now, realize that every animal ages at a different rate and in different ways. Monitor your dog and especially watch for changes at around seven years of age (five years for large breeds). If necessary, adjust his diet accordingly. With the help of your veterinarian and responsible pet food manufacturers, your mature pal can live to a comfortable, healthy old age.

Read more about Senior Dog Care.

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